How to Create Killer Acoustic Solos Using Chords on Your Guitar

Your soloing on the acoustic will take on a new life with these tips.

Ultimate Guitar
When it comes to chords, most guitar players only think of them in a rhythm sense. However, chords are also a great tool to include in your soloing. You can use them a little, sprinkled amongst your single note lines, or you can use them a lot creating a full blown chord solo. Either way they are a great tool for you to use in your soloing.

Tension and release is the name of the game when it comes to soloing on your guitar. A solo that lacks this will have no appeal to you, or your audience. It will be dull, boring, and lifeless. Chords are a great way to create this tension and release providing a nice contrast with the single note lines you play.

A big frustration for me in the early days of my acoustic playing was soloing. I was fine as far as soloing on the electric guitar was concerned, but when it came to the acoustic I just couldn't seem to make anything sound good. This was the case for some time until I eventually realised that nothing was going to change unless I did something different. Kind of obvious, but it's amazing how you'll keep taking the same approach over and over again expecting different results.

I discovered that just simply playing notes for the sake of playing notes was not going to get me very far regarding my acoustic guitar soloing. Rather, I would need some tools, so to speak, to help make my solos sound better. If all you have are notes but no tools to make these notes sound great, then you are left with very little to create a great sounding solo.

Fragmented Chords

One of the many tools you can use in your acoustic solos to add a bit of spice are chords. This is not obvious to most guitar players because chords are generally only thought of in a rhythm sense. However chords will also sound great in your soloing, adding some really nice contrast and texture to the single note lines you play.

Your soloing on the acoustic will take on a new life with just this one element, when used well, leading to you feeling so much more confident when it's time to rip out a solo on the old acoustic.

It's important to note that we are not talking about full chord shapes like the ones you use in the progressions of the songs you play such as bar chords and open chords. At least not in their usual form. These would be much too big and awkward to use in your solos. What we are talking about here are chord fragments.

When you take a larger chord form, such as a bar chord, and break it up into smaller pieces, these are known as fragments of that chord. You basically end up with several smaller chord shapes to work with instead of one large one. A great way to think about and organise these fragments, so that they are under your fingers anytime you wish to use them, is to view the larger chord as the "parent" and the smaller fragments you break that chord into as the "children." All you'll need to know is which children belong to which parent. More about this shortly. 

How to Give Your Soloing a Makeover Using Chord Fragments

Let me show you exactly how you can go about adding chord fragments to your solo lines, bringing new life to them.

Here is a typical 4 bar excerpt from a solo:

There is nothing wrong with how this sounds, however it could sound a lot better by adding some chord fragments like this:

The difference in the sound of the example above compared to the first should be obvious. There is a lot more depth and texture to the solo when chord fragments are used.

You will notice that several times the fragments used in the solo are approached a fret above or below from where that fragment is. There is also an instance in the 4th bar where the fragment is approached chromatically (one fret at a time) from below.

This is just one of many creative ways you can use chord fragments to spice up your solo lines on the acoustic guitar. They alone will bring a whole new dimension to your acoustic guitar soloing.

Parents and Their Children (Sorting Out Your Chord Fragments)

The better you can visualise where each chord fragment is coming from, the better you will be able to apply them to your own soloing. We need to know which fragments (children) belong to which of the larger chord forms (parents).

Let me break down the example from above for you:

Chord progression used:
C Am G F
Chord fragments used:

Above, I have matched the fragments with the larger chord forms that they are derived from. I like to think of the larger chord form as the parent and each fragment that relates to it as a child.

Knowing which fragment relates to which chord form, or which child belongs to which parent, is absolutely vital in having the ability to visualise these on your fretboard. This way you will be able to use them in your soloing, in real time, without needing to give it any thought whatsoever.

About the Author:
Simon Candy is from Melbourne, Australia and is a professional guitar instructor and musician. As well as founding and running his own school, Simon Candy School Of Guitar, he also specialises in and offers online lessons for acoustic guitar.

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

    When I try out some of these ideas they add so much more depth and richness to typical solos. The diagrams are a big help too in visualising where the chord notes are coming from. Thanks for a great lesson!
    Simon,I would be interested in learning more about your online lessons but when I visited your site link above all the links and I mean all the links to contact you or receive e-book, and other stuff on your site are broken, even the free tapping lesson or whatever it was. Guessing your a great player, but whoever's running your site must be on another planet. Contact me at onthedriveguy at Hotmail, if I'm missing something. Thx.Richard
    Too bad I can't read music, but the second diagram made sense. Thanks.
    you don't need to know how to read music to read these, that's the glory of tabs and chord charts.
    Well I guess it's a good thing there was no sheet music presented with this lesson, then.
    This is great! These add so much variety to repetitive pentatonic ideas. Thanks Simon!
    thanks for posting simon I found this article very informative,easy to understand and am now looking forward to giving this a try
    Simon Candy
    tmthomas: that's great! Thanks for checking out the article. Let me know how you go
    Whenever I want to play acoustic solo's usually composed on an electric guitar I try to play up as high as required generally anything higher than the 12th fret I will transpose back 12steps that way the same notes are being played only lower on the board. Works for me may not work for anyone else, but who knows give it a try! not sure if I really like the article.
    I don't think you really understand what he was doing. These are harmonies, not simply dropping an octave.